The Southwest region of Nigeria, otherwise known as the Yoruba Nation, is a nation known for landmark achievements that has placed it ahead of the other regions in the country, from Education to Innovation, Creative Arts, Entertainment and Governance, just to mention a few. As a commission with the mandate to improve the socio-economic condition of the region, we were shocked to discover the abysmal disparity between the number of registered voters and the total number of actual voters.
In the just concluded 2019 presidential election, the six states that makeup the Southwest region had a total of 15,834,151 registered voters, while just 12,814,246 collected their Permanent Voters Cards(PVC). From those who collected PVCs, a meager 4,366,026 actually went to the designated polling units on the 23rd of February to perform their civic duties. That figure translates into 34.1% voter turnout for the whole region.
Disturbingly, these statistics reveal a glaring and bleak future for the region. It is difficult to comprehend the situation we find ourselves today. Maybe we are unaware of the consequences of abstaining from taking part in an election or are aware, but not bothered at all. Either way, these are disturbing and trying times for the western region of Nigeria.
Democracy as a form of government was created with the intention to create opportunities for the people to become a part of the governing process and make their voices heard. The periodic election conducted in many democracies around the world creates such opportunity. A democracy without the strong participation of the public is disabled and dysfunctional.
As a people, one of the biggest consequences voter apathy can have on us is the missed opportunities we have to rewrite our past, secure our present and protect our future. We have categorically placed our future and that of our children in the hands of other regions. Western Nigeria has always been regarded as the economic power of Nigeria, but an economic power without a political power would make us irrelevant in the Nigerian political system.
It is undeniable that the just concluded election has placed the region in a weaker position. We are becoming irrelevant in the Nigerian polity as political parties will begin to ignore and tag us as “not too important” due to the voter apathy a large part of our population has developed. In addition, a population that has developed voter apathy will come across as divided and unattractive, politically.
Research carried out in more advanced democracies reveal that increased voter turn out could significantly affect the lives of the population in question. It is worth mentioning that the commercial capital of the country is in the Southwest, yet the fiscal and monetary policies of the nation are determined in Abuja. The consequence of voter apathy on our region, in this regard, is quite obvious: those with businesses in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ado-Ekiti, Akure, Osogbo, from Multinationals to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMSEs), are unconcerned, if the government (they had a chance to determine) implemented policies that are detrimental to the profitability of their businesses.
The February 23, 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in the region on the need to rise and become once again the pacesetter in the country, particularly on issues of governance and democracy. We must do this, not for ourselves, but for the future of our children and generation unborn.
Seye Oyeleye is the Director-General of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission